The opioid epidemic, also known as the opioid crisis, first gained serious traction in the United States during the 1990s decade due to a number of momentous factors such as a marked increase in the number of pain killer prescriptions along with the fiercely addictive qualities of these medications. Also, big name pharmaceutical companies started to aggressively market and advertise opioid prescription drugs in the 1990s.
Unfortunately, the opioid epidemic has been having an awful impact on numerous individuals, their families, American society, and the healthcare field as a whole over the course of the previous two decades. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2018), the number of overdose deaths involving prescription opioid drugs has been on a noticeable rise since 1999 with no slowdown in sight.
So, in what ways does the opioid epidemic affect the healthcare field in the U.S.? Well, people from all walks of life are addicted to opioids, so this epidemic has most certainly impacted many of the patients, coworkers and visitors who are participants in the healthcare system. The following list consists of the various ways in which the current opioid crisis has affected the healthcare field.
- Impaired healthcare workers and providers: Many physicians, nurses, technicians and other allied healthcare workers have battled fierce addictions to opioids. Some healthcare professionals have even had their professional licenses and/or certifications revoked due to impaired practice or an inability to conquer their addictions. Other healthcare workers have entered drug rehab or chemical dependency programs.
- Treatment of overdose: There has been a sharp increase in the number of addicted patients who are entering the healthcare system by way of rolling into hospital emergency departments on stretchers after having suffered opioid overdoses. In some regions, overburdened emergency medical service providers regularly deal with shortages of Narcan, the injectable medication that reverses the effects of opioid overdose.
- Drug rehabilitative services: Some people enter the healthcare system by opting to receive inpatient drug rehab or participate in chemical dependency programs to battle their addictions to opioids. The number of health insurance plans that cover some or all of the costs associated with drug rehab or chemical dependency treatment has grown larger. Thus, many addicted persons are fighting their addictions by using these avenues.
- Treatment of chronic disease processes: Still, some patients end up in the healthcare system for treatment of chronic hepatitis C, HIV and other bloodborne illnesses after contracting these viruses by using unclean hypodermic needles to inject opioid drugs. Many people who inject heroin were once users of prescription opioid pain pills. However, an alarming number of these folks switched to heroin since it is cheaper and delivers the same type of high.
- Pain management clinics: Physicians who work in the specialty of pain medicine can earn very lucrative incomes due in part to the opioid epidemic. A pain doctor is a medical physician (M.D.) or doctor of osteopathy (D.O.) who specializes in pain medicine. Pain management clinics, referred to as ‘pain clinics’ for short, are doing brisk business as a result of the number of drug-seeking patients who visit them to request prescriptions and refills for opioid medications.
- Impaired family members and visitors: Nurses, nursing assistants, patient care technicians and other healthcare workers who deliver direct patient care at the bedside must occasionally deal with visitors who are obviously impaired. Almost any experienced healthcare worker can describe the so-called ‘opioid nod’ with stunning accuracy because they have seen so many family members nodding off while visiting with hospitalized patients.
- Infants born to addicted mothers: Newborns who are exposed to opioids during the prenatal period begin to experience severe withdrawal symptoms within 48 to 72 hours after birth. This heartbreaking phenomenon is referred to as neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). Moreover, the number of infants being born with neonatal abstinence syndrome has been increasing steadily due to the large number of pregnant women who abuse opioid drugs.
- Lost productivity: The opioid crisis is putting a burdensome strain on employers and corporations, including many healthcare companies. The steepest monetary costs linked with the opioid epidemic arise mainly due to lost productivity and earnings losses for corporations. Untimely overdose deaths and opioid addiction disorders also affect municipal, county, state and federal governments in a detrimental manner by way of losses in tax revenue.
- Staggeringly high healthcare costs: Healthcare costs connected with the opioid epidemic have exceeded $200 billion since 2001. These expenses are primarily due to pre-hospital emergency medical services (a.k.a. ambulance care), visits to local emergency departments, and the widespread use of Narcan, a medication that rapidly reverses the effects of opioid overdose. Also, opioid addicts cost their employers approximately twice as much in healthcare expenses when compared to their non-addicted workmates.